Looking for the Wednesday Wandering? Page back one and have a piece of cake as we celebrate the fourth anniversary! Then join me and Alan as we continue take a look at some of the ramifications of sailing in pirate haunted waters.
JANE: Last time I mentioned that second-hand bookstores and libraries had an impact on the creative process of writing. Can you guess what it is?
ALAN: I’m sorry, but that’s got me completely flummoxed! The only thing that comes to mind is something vague about second-hand ideas, but I’m sure that’s not what you mean. So what is the creative impact?
JANE: The creative impact is that publishers are less willing to take gambles because they are less certain of selling copies. I can’t name names, because most of what I know was told to me in confidence, but I have spoken to several award-winning, popular authors who were basically told: “Write for me in your X universe/series and we’ll buy it. Otherwise, sorry, not interested.”
ALAN: That explains a lot. I get so sick of never-ending series that really should have been put out to pasture many books ago. I simply don’t understand why they continue to sell. There comes a point where the stories turn into writing by numbers; just hack work.
JANE: And that’s a situation that’s particularly sad when a writer finds himself or herself becoming a hack within a universe they created and once loved.
I’m sure if Roger Zelazny was still alive, he’d find a lot of interest in more and more Amber novels. That’s great for fans of Amber, but it would mean that wonderful books like A Night in the Lonesome October would never get written.
ALAN: Much as I love Roger’s work, I really wouldn’t have wanted to see any more Amber books. That universe was written out. Like you, I much preferred to see him working on something new and fresh rather than old and tired.
JANE: Me, too.
ALAN: Of course, just like DVDs, books are now available in electronic form. Many providers of e-books try and stop people from copying them by encrypting them in a special way – it’s called DRM (Digital Rights Management), and the practical effect is that you can only read the book on the e-reader you used to purchase it. You can’t transfer the book to another device, which effectively prevents people from copying the book illegally. The downside is that if your e-reader breaks or if you buy a new one with bigger bells and louder whistles, you have to buy the book again. And again, and again… There’s a school of thought that says this actually harms sales since many people simply refuse to buy e-books that come with DRM.
JANE: My opinion on DRM has changed. Initially, I was all for DRM because, as we discussed last week, piracy seriously hurts writers. However, once e-books could be read on different media, DRM seemed like a bad idea to me for all the reasons you mentioned. That’s why if you buy one of my handful of e-books directly from me, they will not have DRM.
Sadly, too, even if a book is protected by DRM, determined pirates will break it – and brag about how clever they are. I get depressed just thinking about it.
ALAN: Tor, which publishes a lot of your books, now has a policy of not attaching DRM to their e-books. Unfortunately they only sell e-books through stores like Amazon, and Amazon is a law unto itself. More often than not they attach DRM to Tor books even though Tor tells them not to. I’ve been caught in this trap more than once and I have several Tor books which proudly proclaim in the small print that they are DRM-free. Nevertheless Amazon has put DRM on them. Tor seems completely powerless to get Amazon to stop doing this, and Tor never answer their emails when I complain to them about it. Consequently I no longer buy e-books published by Tor.
JANE: Well, I’ll pass this along to my editor, Claire Eddy, at Tor. She’s a good listener. Maybe she’ll know what we can do.
ALAN: Wildside Press e-books and Baen e-books are also DRM-free. Both these publishers sell their books directly as well as through Amazon. I always make a point of buying e-books directly from Wildside and Baen and I’ve spent a lot of money doing just that. If Tor ever starts selling e-books directly, I’ll certainly start buying from them again.
JANE: I’ll definitely pass this along. I know that Patrick Nielsen Hayden, one of Tor’s senior editors, is avidly interested in how the Internet is changing publishing. It’s completely possible he has no idea what Amazon is doing. E-mails like the one you sent often get lost as they’re handed up the line.
ALAN: Many individual authors are now selling their e-books on the internet as well. I’ve bought lots of DRM-free books from Matthew Hughes, Mike Resnick, Rudy Rucker, and Jack Vance. And in this case, of course, the authors get to keep all of the money!
JANE: Not quite all, especially if the writers sell through Amazon or Barnes and Noble. Then there is a small commission. Also, upfront expenses and investment in time are much higher for an author who wants to do an e-book than many imagine until they start working on an e-book.
I kept careful track of my expenses when I did my three e-books. It took a good many sales for them to earn out what I’d spent. This was even though I think my expenses were lower than average. I also must stress that many people will say: “But you can do it all yourself and it’s free.” That’s not completely true. There’s an investment of time, time that gets taken away from writing.
ALAN: Oh gosh yes! I’ve turned some of these tangents into an ebook and I was astonished to find how much time it took. It’s tedious and laborious. And of course it doesn’t help that I’m an incredible pedant who tries very, very hard to cross all the i’s and dot all the t’s. You wouldn’t believe how much time that eats up. It gave me a whole new appreciation for just how hard professional editors must work.
JANE: Well, since you’ve mentioned it, let me remind our readers that they can download the fruits of your labors for free from your website http://tyke.net.nz/books.
E-books are also touted as the way authors can publish those books that the professional outfits won’t take because they’re too daring or not in a popular series or whatever. This is lovely in theory, but the author still needs to put in the time writing the book, getting it ready for e-book and/or POD publication, and then promoting it. Not many writers are so rich that they can afford a year or more away from paying work, especially if writing is their primary means of support. This leads to authors taking on other jobs – either outside of writing or writing something to pay the bills.
Once again, the field suffers.
Worse, whether reprints or new fiction, people start pirating those e-books, too… It’s actually pretty disheartening.
ALAN: That’s depressingly true. But nevertheless, I think that the British DVD assumption that the purchaser of the product is basically honest is the way to go. If you start by assuming that everyone is a pirate, both you and your audience are left with a bit of a nasty taste in the mouth.
JANE: I agree. I’ve had to reach for the mouthwash, especially when well-meaning friends send me links to where my books have been pirated. Still, I agree with you that if people feel it’s assumed they’ll cheat, then I think they’re more likely to feel clever when they figure out how to pull the cheat off. It’s much harder when they realize they’re just as scummy as someone who pockets candy in a Mom and Pop store that’s having trouble meeting its bills.
ALAN: The remedy lies with the publishers themselves. I hope that the approach taken by Tor and Baen starts a trend. Tor’s implementation may be flawed, but at least their heart is in the right place.
JANE: On that optimistic note, I need to go write. I’m immersed in revising AA2. It’s quite absorbing.